Child Casualities of the Good News

A remarkable letter of apology, signed by the chairman of the board of directors of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, was printed in the February 2009 issue of Alliance Life, the denomination’s official magazine. The board acknowledged “its deepest regrets for the significant trauma” experienced by vulnerable children of missionaries, and apologized contritely for decades of failure by Alliance leadership to recognize, acknowledge and stop abuse at the Alliance’s mandatory boarding schools for missionary children. After decades of damage control, and attempts to sweep the scandal under the rug, the new board has courageously (and biblically) come clean.

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Atonement in Gran Torino

The new movie Gran Torino (2009) is a remarkable exclamation point to the Clint Eastwood film genre. From memorable earlier films like Dirty Harry and Unforgiven, we are accustomed to witnessing grim vigilante violence that poisons the avenger and leaves little room for hope. We are familiar by now with Clint Eastwood’s steely eyes, lined face, laconic speech, barely-suppressed rage and tortured soul—the very things that have made him an American cultural icon. Who would have guessed that Eastwood, now in his 70s, would go theological on us?

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The Lost Shepherd

The scandalous Ted Haggard, recently ousted president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has resurfaced. You’ll remember him, no doubt, as the Colorado mega-church pastor whose secret meth-addled trysts with a homosexual prostitute finally came to light a couple of years ago. His devastated church removed him from office, but gave him a full year of severance pay, and asked him to cooperate with a “restoration” process that involved being accountable to some national-level religious leaders like (for awhile, anyway) James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Evidently the process did not go very well, and finally unraveled.

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A Sad Day for Evangelicalism

This is a sad day for the evangelical movement. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) just tossed Richard Cizik overboard. A more apt metaphor might be that some biggies in the NAE, who had been stalking him for a while, finally nailed their target. Charles Colson responded to the news of Cizik’s departure with this: “I’m not surprised. I’m sorry for him, but I’m not disappointed for the evangelical movement.” I’m not surprised either, but I’m sorrier for evangelicals than I am for Cizik. Richard can hold his head high; I’m not sure we can.

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It All Starts with a Child

We have entered the Advent season once again. The Sunday before Advent was the final one in the annual church calendar—Christ the King Sunday. The whole cycle culminated in a celebration of Christ’s final victory and glory. It ended on a high note. But now with Advent it starts up all over again. We begin at the beginning. The story we rehearse is a journey toward glory, but it gets there only by way of Good Friday, the cross and suffering. In biblical imagery it is the Lamb that is upon the throne—the one who suffered and died was vindicated by God and now has a name that is above every name.

But Advent is a reminder that the one who became King of Kings began his journey as a child—as one without power or clout, as a dependent who was obliged to submit to earthly parents during his growing-up years. The story begins with the Eternal Son’s acceptance of the identity and place of a child. The first Adam hit the deck running as a mature adult, but the second Adam—the one who symbolized a new beginning for humanity—began not as an adult, but as an infant, a dependent.

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Baseball Salaries in Moral Perspective

According to ESPN and local sports pundits Trevor Hoffman, the future baseball Hall of Famer and closer for the San Diego Padres since the early 1990s, has been treated shabbily. Despite all he’s done for that organization, the Padres offered him a paltry $4 million for next season. After he pondered this unacceptable proposal for weeks, the organization withdrew it altogether and negotiations ended. Hoffman had dreams of becoming a local hero in perpetuity, like Tony Gwynn. Not anymore, I guess. He’ll finish his career wearing a funny ball cap in someplace like Pittsburgh or Cleveland. This is our latest local soap opera. But wait a minute. Did someone mention four million dollars? Yes, and if you are among those who feel outraged by the cheapness of the Padres’ offer, maybe you need to get a grip.

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The Politics of Intimidation

When the fish die you know there’s something wrong with the water. When the bees disappear, it means the ecosystem is in trouble. When it’s the height of the election season, and there are hardly any signs on neighborhood lawns, you begin to suspect that something may be amiss this time around. The truth is that there aren’t many lawn signs or bumper stickers. My theory is that American citizens no longer feel safe about taking a public stand one way or the other. That’s because we’re witnessing the rise of the politics of intimidation.

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Toward an Integrated Spirituality

Many years ago I joined some teenage Inuit friends on a two-day Arctic caribou hunt up the west (left-hand side) of Canada’s Hudson’s Bay. This is still one of the most unpopulated places in the whole world. We felt how small and mortal we were in that vast, silent emptiness that spread to the horizons. Our destination was Maguse River, where a small cluster of derelict buildings would provide a place to overnight. Thousands of white geese rose suddenly from the long grass as we approached at dusk, with such a shocking blast of sound that we literally staggered and our hearts raced. So much sound puncturing that much silence was almost too much to bear.

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The Quest for Significance

According to the Greek poet Homer, Sisyphus was a tragic figure who had had gotten on the bad side of the gods. As a result, the poor guy was blinded and doomed to push a massive rock up a mountain. He had no choice but to try and fulfill his assignment. He strained and grunted, grinding his heels into the flinty ground for traction. But as soon as he neared the peak, and the accomplishment of his objective, the massive stone would roll back down to the bottom and he would have to start the arduous effort all over again. The cycle played out with numbing repetition. He was doomed always to labor in this fashion, but never to accomplish his task. His life was cursed with futility.

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Our Curious Shortage of Saints

It was the first night of our seminary course in Christian social ethics, and the classroom was packed. At our school we have three required courses in theology, but just one in ethics. I don’t want to read too much into this uneven weighting of our core curriculum, but most would agree that it is classically evangelical. I began that evening with a question that seemed to throw a few of the students: “Why should we be good?” There was general agreement that we ought to be, but a good deal of confusion about why we need to be. For centuries, Protestants, and evangelical Protestants in particular, have struggled to answer this clearly and well, and the seminarians that night were no exception. Our great fear, I guess, is that we might compromise the Gospel of grace by making it conditional on moral performance. If the moral imperative is less than imperative, we should not be surprised that we face a shortage of saints.

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